Jack Wighton is ready to grab the opportunity to play in the halves for the Raiders with both hands. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has compared him with a young Laurie Daley, and now Jack Wighton will be given his chance to stake a claim for the Raiders' No.6 jersey.
While Josh McCrone's switch from the halves to hooker has long been expected, Wighton looms as his potential replacement in the halves and will be named at five-eighth for Canberra's opening trial match against the Melbourne Storm on Saturday, February 8.
Regular five-eighth Terry Campese will be one of several senior players rested for Canberra's first pre-season match, but Stuart has made it clear that Wighton is a genuine option to partner the skipper in the halves once the NRL season kicks off.
''I'm not putting him [Wighton] there for no reason,'' Stuart said.
''We know he can play wing and centre. I want to see how he handles six. I think he can be more of an asset closer to the action.
''It's going to take some time to adjust, that's why I'm playing him in some trials there to see if it's going to be worthwhile early [in the NRL season], or something down the track.''
Stuart hinted at the positional move in October last year when he told Fairfax Media: ''[Wighton] reminds me of a Laurie Daley-style player, he's a running six.''
But it was widely thought Wighton would replace sacked NSW Origin representative Blake Ferguson in the centres, where Wighton represented NSW Country last year.
Wighton and rookie halfback Mitch Cornish will start in the halves against the Storm, with McCrone at hooker.
Wighton represented Australian Schoolboys at five-eighth, but the 20-year-old has played all his 27 NRL games at centre or wing.
''The biggest challenge is having the self-confidence in leading the boys around,'' Wighton said of the switch.
''Ricky's been really good in helping me in that area. He said even if it isn't this year, I'm still young and he sees me as a half in the future.
''Of course it's going to be different with that pressure on me, but I'm definitely excited about another challenge.
''Centres, though, is still a massive possibility for me this year.''
Wighton's running game could make him an ideal foil for Campese, who will be charged more with steering the team's attack.
''It really helps having a half like Campo. He leads them around and I just run off the back of that,'' Wighton said.
''I'll grow in confidence over the year if I do get that role, and hopefully become more of a leader.''
Campese backed Wighton to rise to the challenge should he be anointed his halves partner.
''There's no reason why he won't jump in that spot and dominate in first grade,'' Campese said.
''He's played five-eighth before and it's a position he's comfortable with; he's a big kid and a great defender.
''He just has to look back on his form he's shown in first grade so far. He's matched it with the best of them.
''Jack should take confidence out of that and think about running the ball, that's his best attribute.''
Wighton sought Campese's advice after breaking his leg in two places against Canterbury in round 23 last year. It was his second season-ending injury, having torn a ligament in his toe the year before.
Wighton has since re-signed with Canberra until the end of 2016.
''There's a lot more work to do in getting that strength back and being mentally confident with it,'' Wighton said.
''As soon as it happened, Campo was the first guy I spoke to. It was pretty slow [recovery] to start with and I was worried, but it's come good now.
''I'd love to become a one-club person, that's the ultimate dream … Canberra's home and I love it here.''
Canberra's World Cup contingent Brett White, Anthony Milford and Josh Papalii are also tipped to sit out the opening trial.